Teaching “Main Idea” Through Picture Books by Renee Kirchner

July 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Writing for Children

Renee Kirchner
by Renee Kirchner
Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

Learning how to identify the main idea and supporting details is an important reading skill that children must develop. It helps them to create meaning as they read. Teachers can use a variety of strategies to explain main idea. Basically, the main idea is the main reason the story was written. For example, the main reason for going to an amusement park is to ride the rides and have fun. A child might eat some yummy food like cotton candy or hot dogs at the amusement park, but that wasn’t the main reason for going.

Every story has a main idea. Sometimes the main idea can be found in the first sentence of the story and sometimes it is found in the middle of a story. Tell children to think of the 5 W’s, who, what, when, where, and why to help them look for the main idea. All stories have supporting details that are related to the main idea. There could be just a few supporting details or many.

There are many fine examples of picture books that you can use to main idea. Read some of the stories listed below and ask children to try to tell you the main idea. It might be helpful for children to have a visual. Draw a daisy on the board and put the main idea of a story into the center of the flower and write the supporting details on the petals. Ask them to do the same when choosing the main idea from other stories.

Picture books to teach main idea:
Thanksgiving is Here! By Diane Goode
August 2003, HarperCollins Publishers

Main idea: The main idea in this story is that a grandmother and a grandfather are hosting a warm family gathering.

Supporting Details:
1) A stray dog shows up to the party (but tell children that the story is not about a dog). 2) One of the guests brings a gift to the host and hostess of the Thanksgiving dinner.
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
March, 1990Harcourt Children’s Books

Main Idea: The Kapok Tree is important to many rain forest animals because it is their home.

Supporting Details:
A man falls asleep while trying to chop down the tree.
A butterfly whispers in his ear.
The rain forest has three layers: a canopy, an understory, and a forest floor.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
September 1996, HarperCollins Publishers

Main Idea: The little mouse, Chrysanthemum, loves her name.

Supporting Details:
The students in class all have short names
The students tease Chrysanthemum about her name
The teacher is named after a flower too.


Teaching Metaphors

June 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Writing for Children

metaphorby Renee Kirchner, Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

Metaphors talk about one thing as if it were another. They are not introduced with the words “like” or “as”, but make direct comparisons. Here are a few examples:

His shirt was a flag, flying in the breeze.
Her eyes were jewels, sparkling in the sun.
The ocean is a playground for scuba divers.
A song is a poem set to music.

Metaphors can compare something unfamiliar with something familiar to give you a frame of reference.

The surface of the moon is a snowy yard with footprint craters.
The bottom of the ocean is a dark cave.
A kiwi is a fuzzy lime.
A resume is a report card for adults.

A metaphor comparison is not literal. You can’t always take the meaning directly. Here are some examples:

His room was a pigpen. (This means his room is messy, not that pigs live in it.)
The harvest moon was a pumpkin. (This means the moon was round and orange, not made out of pumpkin.)
Her teeth were pearls. (This means her teeth were white like pearls, not that each tooth was actually a pearl.)
The baby’s cheeks were two rosy apples. (This means the baby’s cheeks are round and red, not really apples.)

Writers use metaphors to make their writing colorful and you can to. Give it a try.

Life is a Roller Coaster Sometimes!An Exercise in Writing Metaphors: Complete the sentences to make your own metaphors.

1. The moon is a _____________________________________________.

2. Freckles are ________________ when they spread across your face.

3. His arms were _________________ as they lifted the heavy chair.

4. The stars are ______________ as they twinkle in the night sky.

5. The storm was a ______________ as it clawed against my window.

6. The freshly mowed lawn was a ___________________________.

7. The noisy children were __________________ as they raced through the museum.

8. I was a ___________________ as I tiptoed across the wooden floor.

9. The river was a _________________ as it twisted and turned down the mountain.

10. His cheeks were __________________ as he chewed the giant wad of bubble gum.


Writing a Rebus Story

April 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Writing for Children


rebus story
by Renee Kirchner, Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

A rebus story is a story that is not just made with words. It is a story that combines words and pictures. The picture can represent an entire word or part of a word. The reader will have to sound out each syllable of a word when they read the rebus story.

This type of story writing is an excellent way for young writers to begin writing stories. They can draw pictures for some of the longer words that give them difficulty.

The best way to begin to write a rebus story is to write out the entire story in words. Then go back and read the story out loud to yourself. Listen to each syllable of each word. For example: Sunday (This word could be represented by a picture of the sun and the word “day”).

Use the following story starters to write a winter rebus story.

1. I was sledding down a giant hill when suddenly….

2. Sharp icicles hung from my garage. I saw the neighborhood bully walking by just as some of the icicles started to break loose. He….

3. I made a nice round snowman dressed in a hat and scarf. When I woke up the next morning he was missing. What happened to him?

4. I was skating on the pond by my house when suddenly the ice cracked. I hollered and hollered for help. I started slipping into the freezing water…

5. Describe the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. What were you doing while you watched it?

6. In my hometown it never snows. I knew it would take a miracle to get snow on Christmas Eve. The weatherman said it might happen this year …..

7. I had never been snow skiing before. I went to ski school and you will never believe what happened to me. I started down the hill….

8. My friend dared me to stick out my tongue and touch it to the freezing cold light pole. Now I am stuck. What will happen to me?

9. The animals and birds outside of my house must be very cold. Here is what I did for them.

10. My goals for the New Year are….


Teaching Personification

April 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Writing for Children

personificationby Renee Kirchner,Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

Personification is a type of figurative language in which a non-living object is given human qualities. The verb in the sentence involves a human action. Here are a few examples:

The ocean waves rocked me to sleep.
The wind sang a beautiful song.
The thunder clapped its hands together in perfect rhythm with the rain.
The roses tilted their faces towards the sun.

Personification can make your writing more fun. Your writing will be stronger and more interesting if you try this technique some of the time.

The swimming pool invited me in for a refreshing swim.
The poison ivy vines raced up the side of the tree.
The sunrise painted a beautiful picture in the sky.
The tall grass danced in the wind.

The person reading your writing will understand that wind cannot sing and waves cannot rock you to sleep, but your writing will be more like a poem.

Can you use personification in your writing? Give it a try.

An Exercise in Using Personification:

Fill in the blanks with a verb that gives human qualities to the non-living object in the sentence.

1. The flowers _______________ at me as I walked through the park.

2. The fall leaves ________________ to the ground.

3. The rain __________________ his cheeks as he ran home.

4. The train _________________ the family through the woods and over the mountain.

5. The soccer net _________________ the ball in mid air.

6. The rainbow __________________ the sky with brilliant colors.

7. The thorn bush ________________ at our ankles as we walked on the trail.

8. I watched the flower bulbs _________________ out of the soil after the light spring rain.

9. Spider webs ________________ in the moonlight from the trees in my front yard.

10. The basketball ________________ from my hand as I released my final shot of the game.

Similes – A Teaching Tip

April 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Writing for Children


simileby Renee Kirchner, Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

Similes compare two unlike things using phrases that begin with like or as. Similes help you see pictures in your mind.

Can you see these similes?

The tree was as tall as a skyscraper. The stray dog was as thin as a needle. The playground looked like a busy anthill. Her new tooth was as white as a marshmallow.

Similes are descriptive, colorful, and clever. They help us see objects in ways we never have seen them before.

The swimming pool was as cold as an iceberg. Her hair looked like buttered spaghetti. The water slide was as slippery as a bar of soap. The soccer goal looked like a giant butterfly net.

Some similes are overused and we’ve heard them many times. These are called clichés. Try not to use this type of simile too much. Come up with your own ideas that are even better.

Have you heard some of these clichés before?

Her face was as red as a beet. He was as mad as a hornet. Their mother was as busy as a bee. His cat was as fat as a pig.

The best similes use the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell to describe an object. Here are just a few:

The ocean tasted as salty as a pretzel. The cat’s tongue felt as rough as sandpaper. The old sleeping bag smelled like a wet dog. The school bell was as loud as a police siren.

Can you write a simile? Give it a try.

An Exercise in Writing Similes:

Complete the sentences to make your own similes. Try not to use clichés.

1. The candy tasted as sweet as __________________________________________.

2. The ice cream truck sounded like a _____________________________________.

3. Her smile was as wide as a __________________________________________.

4. She ran as fast as a _________________________________________________.

5. The pickle tasted as sour as a _________________________________________.

6. The movie was as sad as ____________________________________________.

7. Their teacher was as smart as ________________________________________.

8. The aquarium looked like a _________________________________________.

9. The berries were as red as a _________________________________________.

10. His old tennis shoes smelled like a ___________________________________.